Editorial board: Wyoming lawmakers should do away with child marriages
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Editorial board: Wyoming lawmakers should do away with child marriages

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Legislative Guide - General Photo

An airplane flies in the distance behind the Capitol Rotunda in Cheyenne. The Wyoming Legislature gathers for only a matter of weeks each year in the historic building.

If you are 16, the state of Wyoming considers you too immature to decide who should serve on the local town council. In the eyes of the law, you’re not yet old enough to drink a beer, smoke a cigarette or buy a lottery ticket. And yet, Wyoming allows 16 year olds – children – to get married.

That inconsistency is troubling. After all, there are valid reasons why we as a society have decided that people must be 18 to vote, to buy a beer or to smoke – namely that children aren’t yet mature enough to participate in voting or choose what substances to consume or not. Still, we allow children to decide whether they’re ready to participate in one of our most important institutions: marriage.

This is problematic for several reason. Marriage is something that requires maturity. It involves adult matters of love, sex, money, children, inheritance and health. If a child isn’t mature enough to buy a $2 lottery ticket from the gas station, surely she is not prepared to grapple with matters so weighty.

Plus, there is plenty of science to suggest that marrying young can have worse outcomes. One long-term federal study showed couples who get married young tend to divorce at higher rates than average. They also are more likely to achieve less education while facing greater rates of poverty.

More troubling still is evidence that shows girls are disproportionately the ones to be married young and are often pressured into the commitment by a manipulative partner or by religious or social customs.

Last year, Sen. Charley Pelkey, D-Laramie, authored a bill that would have raised Wyoming’s minimum marriage age to 18. It failed in the House by a mere five votes.

Pelkey is making another attempt this year. His bill faces an uphill climb, in part because it’s a non-budget bill in a budget session. But we hope lawmakers give it strong consideration, and ultimately, their support.

The arguments for allowing children to marry are specious at best. They center on the idea of personal freedoms. While we are generally sympathetic to such arguments, in this case, the logic falls apart. State lawmakers have already decided that 16 year old aren’t mature enough to vote, to drink, to smoke, to gamble, or make a handful of other life choices. So why is marriage the one place where they are suddenly concerned about the personal liberties of teenagers?

We also question whose liberty is at stake. The studies say girls who marry before they become adults are often pressured into the relationship. If that’s the case, they aren’t making a decision based on personal liberty; it’s one of societal pressures.

Lawmakers should end this practice in Wyoming. Sixteen-year-olds are better off spending their time studying, preparing for college, learning about the world, learning about themselves, playing a sport or participating in the arts. We should protect these kids and give them the time typically needed to mature so they can make responsible decisions. They have the rest of their lives to find a partner and get married if that is what they want. But for now, why not let the kids be kids?

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